Brimstone Precision-Guided Missiles Are Headed To Ukraine Within Weeks

The missiles can be used to engage targets at sea and on land and are the latest British-supplied advanced weapons for Ukraine.

byThomas Newdick|
UK sending Brimstone to Ukraine. MBDA


The United Kingdom has confirmed that it’s sending Brimstone precision-guided missiles to Ukraine, as part of a steadily expanding supply of weapons the country is providing to help resist the Russian invasion, which is now in its 64th day. Interestingly, accounts from British officials and media are currently at odds as to whether the missiles being supplied are intended as anti-ship weapons, for attacking ground targets, or perhaps even both. The Brimstone, produced by pan-European missile manufacturer MBDA, is available in air-launched and ground-launched versions and has also been offered in ship-based form.

What we do know is that a British government official, James Heappey, the U.K.’s armed forces minister, has confirmed that “hundreds” of Brimstone missiles will be sent to Ukraine, where the first examples should arrive in the “next few weeks.”

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In its report on the topic, The Times newspaper states clearly that the Brimstones being supplied are anti-ship weapons, although Heappey is not directly quoted on this point. Brimstone has, in the past, been offered as a missile that can be mounted on different surface vessels, including smaller coastal craft. However, even against bigger vessels, such as a large amphibious landing ship, Brimstone could still achieve a mission kill.

A senior colleague of Heappey, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, meanwhile has said the Brimstone missiles “will be used over the ground,” suggesting that anti-shipping is not the main priority. Indeed, Wallace added that an anti-ship missile solution was being considered separately.

It is possible that the newspaper may have conflated the planned delivery of Brimstone with reports back in October last year, several months prior to the Russian invasion, that identified Ukraine as a potential Brimstone customer. At the time, it was suggested the missiles would be integrated on Ukrainian patrol boats and aircraft. Today, however, integration on naval craft let alone on the dwindling fleet of Ukrainian combat aircraft would likely be a long and complex process.

Further confusion may also exist after the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged he would supply Ukraine with anti-ship missiles, during his visit to Kyiv earlier this month. There had been speculation that such a delivery might involve Harpoon anti-ship missiles, although the United Kingdom uses these in ship-launched form, rather than from the kinds of ground launchers that would be of immediate use to Ukraine.

Boris Johnson has also suggested that Ukrainian Brimstones could be mounted on the back of ‘technical’ vehicles to hit targets in the Black Sea.

The Ukrainians claimed to have used their own Neptune anti-ship missiles to sink the Russian Navy’s Project 1164 Slava class cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea Fleet earlier this month. However, the anti-ship version of Brimstone has been developed to engage smaller targets.

The Neptune anti-ship cruise missile, of the type that’s claimed to have sunk the Moskva. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

The anti-ship application is known as Maritime Brimstone or, in its latest form, Sea Spear.

MBDA describes the missile, which is similar in general appearance to the American AGM-114 Hellfire, as follows:

“Maritime Brimstone provides a unique and unrivaled, all-weather, rapid anti-swarming FIAC [fast in-shore attack craft] capability weapon, offering the naval operator the option of engaging a wide range of target types, including fast-moving individual targets in cluttered environments, in both direct and indirect fire modes.”

An artist’s concept of a small naval craft armed with surface-launched Brimstone/Sea Spear missiles. MBDA

Video showing Brimstone anti-FIAC trials after launch from a Tornado GR4 jet in 2014:

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In the past, MBDA has also offered the Brimstone as a ground-launched weapon integrated with a variety of ground platforms, too, including for Poland’s tank destroyer requirement.

A proposed Brimstone-armed tank destroyer for Poland, based on the Krab 155mm self-propelled howitzer chassis, with three eight-round launchers. MBDA

To date, none of the vehicle-mounted or ship-launched Brimstone versions have been deployed operationally. This would make Ukraine the first confirmed operator of either variant of the missile, with all previous customers using the air-launched Brimstone.

Brimstone in detail

Regardless of the application, each Brimstone is a little under 6 feet long, has a diameter of 7.4 inches, and weighs 110 pounds. The operator can select the firing mode using a touchscreen control panel and the missile can also be launched in salvos to tackle swarms of targets.

Guidance is by dual active millimetric-wave radar and semi-active laser, meaning it can be used in adverse weather conditions and at night. There is also an inertial navigation system autopilot to get it to the general target area at extended ranges before it begins searching out its target autonomously.

The warhead is a tandem shaped charge with different delay and proximity fusing modes.

The maximum range of the surface-launched Brimstone versions is unclear, but the air-launched model can reportedly hit targets at between 4.3 and 15.5 miles. Surface launch, without the benefit of an aircraft’s speed and altitude, would likely imply a range at the lower end of this scale.

Brimstone missile. MBDA

Since the missile itself, whether ground-launched or ship-based, is the same one as used by the U.K. Royal Air Force and other operators in the air-launched application, Ukraine can presumably be supplied with existing rounds from U.K. stockpiles, or direct from the manufacturer.

A Brimstone missile fitted to a Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 strike aircraft. Crown Copyright

Anti-ship Brimstone

The delivery of the weapons at this point could also be in response to fears of a possible Russian amphibious assault, perhaps directed against Ukraine’s key port city of Odesa, or elsewhere along the country’s southern coast. The ability to salvo-launch precision-guided weapons from the coast is something that Ukraine currently lacks, beyond an unknown number of launchers for its own Neptune missiles. However, these weapons were only recently inducted to service and it’s not clear if they are available in significant numbers. In contrast, the Maritime Brimstone is also much more mobile and can be easily concealed, especially when adapted for launch from smaller vehicles.

As well as the continued threat of amphibious assault, it’s also noteworthy that Russia is now apparently making use of at least one Mangust class patrol boat to launch covert missions behind Ukrainian lines, according to sources in the country. In particular, there are reports of the Russians making use of the massive Dnieper River and its many tributaries to deliver troops into the enemy’s rear areas. This would suggest a developing riverine element to the conflict, one in which the Maritime Brimstone could also be highly relevant.

Brimstone versus ground targets

Of course, there is no reason why Brimstone couldn’t also be used to engage targets on land or be used against targets in both domains. The air-launched Brimstone has been widely used in combat against moving targets, especially, and its tandem warhead is capable of penetrating “all known conventional and reactive armor,” according to the manufacturer. The same would be true of a ground-launched version, which could be especially useful to help blunt the ongoing Russian offensive in the east of Ukraine, which is making considerable use of tanks. Especially in this theater, Brimstone could help offset the large Russian armored formations, which Ukraine may otherwise struggle to counter.

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As for training the Ukrainian Armed Forces to use Brimstone, it’s not clear where this will take place but, based on the delivery timeline, it may well be happening already. Ukrainian troops apparently received training on British-supplied Starstreak ground-based anti-aircraft missiles in Poland. Within days of these weapons being declared ready for service, there were claims that Starstreaks had successfully brought down several Russian helicopters.

All told, it seems that we may not have to wait long to see the Brimstone in action in Ukraine. While we cannot currently confirm if the missiles are intended to strike objectives at sea, on land, or in both domains, there is clearly potential for this weapon to be employed against a wide variety of Russian targets.

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